Monday, October 29, 2007

National Tobacco Control Conference Sacrifices Scientific and Moral Integrity for Money

The 2007 National Conference on Tobacco or Health was held late last week in Minneapolis. According to the conference literature, a major purpose of the conference was to "Learn the latest evidence on what works in tobacco control and how to apply current research findings." However, far from being an objective source of scientific information, the conference prostituted itself - in my opinion - by accepting sponsorship funding from Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company that manufactures a smoking cessation drug which was discussed at the meetings.

A major topic of the conference was "cessation, nicotine, and the science of addiction." In a conference sponsored by Pfizer, one cannot expect to have an objective presentation of this topic. After all, Pfizer is the manufacturer of Chantix (varenicline), which the company is heavily promoting as a smoking cessation aid.

In fact, one of the "scientific" sessions - which could better be called a "marketing" session for Pfizer - discussed the use of Chantix for smoking cessation. The acknowledged learning objective for this session was to "understand the newly-approved smoking cessation pharmacotherapy, varenicline (Chantix)."

There is nothing wrong with discussing the use of Chantix at a scientific conference. However, when that conference is sponsored by the manufacturer of Chantix, it ceases to be an objective scientific meeting and instead becomes a pharmaceutical marketing tool. Essentially, Pfizer paid for the marketing of its drug at this conference.

To make matters much worse, the financial connections between the investigators presenting the Chantix data and Big Pharma are not disclosed on the conference web site. Among the scientific presenters of the Chantix data listed on the website are Dr. Jon-Jar Zubieta, and Dr. Douglas Jorenby.

What is not revealed on the website is that:
  • Zubieta's research has been supported by Pfizer and Zubieta has received lecture fees from a number of other pharmaceutical companies; and
  • Jorenby has received "research support from Pfizer, Nabi Biopharmaceutical, Sanofi-Aventis and consulting fees from Nabi Biopharmaceutical."
Another presentation, on "hospital systems for treating tobacco dependence among inpatients," emphasizes the importance of pharmacotherapy in smoking cessation. One of the specific learning objectives of this presentation is to "identify a variety of strategies for working with the health care team to facilitate pharmacotherapy in the hospital and on discharge." Among the scientific presenters of this perspective are Dr. Nancy Rigotti and Dr. Edward Ellerbeck. Of course, what the website fails to reveal is that:
  • Dr. Rigotti has received "research grant funding and consulting fees from GlaxoSmithKline, which markets smoking cessation medications, and Pfizer and Sanofi-Aventis, which are developing smoking cessation medications. Dr Rigotti also reported receiving consulting fees from Merck, which is developing smoking cessation medications;" and
  • Dr. Ellerbeck has participated in research funded by Pfizer.
Another session, entitled "Making the case to insurers & states for cessation treatment coverage," which could otherwise be entitled "Promoting pharmacotherapy which will increase Big Pharma profits," was presented by a panel which includes Dr. Michael Fiore. Once again, what the website hides is the fact that:
  • Dr. Fiore has "served as a consultant for, given lectures sponsored by, or ... conducted research sponsored by Ciba-Geigy, SmithKline Beecham, Lederle Laboratories, McNeil Consumer Products, Elan Pharmaceutical, Pharmacia, and Glaxo Wellcome."
You can be sure that the alternative perspective - that most smokers who quit successfully do so cold turkey and that an over-reliance on pharmaceuticals is hampering, rather than helping overall smoking cessation efforts - was not presented at this conference.

For example, I doubt that they discussed research, such as that by Robert West and Taj Sohal at University College London and published recently in the British Medical Journal, which finds that a substantial proportion of successful quitters do not make a planned quit attempt, but quit spontaneously, a fact which suggests that the obsessive focus on pharmacotherapy is misplaced. With its pharmaceutical company sponsorship, there is simply no way that the conference could present a scientifically objective perspective on the role of pharmacotherapy as part of smoking cessation strategy.

As a Silver sponsor, here is what Pfizer also received from the National Tobacco Control Conference:
  • Recognition as Major Sponsor in all materials
  • Recognition as Major Sponsor on Program back cover
  • Recognition as Major Sponsor in Participant Directory
  • One free standard exhibit booth space
  • 15% discount on premium exhibit space
  • Free half-page Program ad
  • Highlighting of exhibit booth on Program map
  • Participant mailing list (1 free use, pre- or post-conference)
  • 5 free full Conference registrations
  • 6 free Exhibitor passes
  • Inclusion on signage in MCC [Minneapolis Convention Center]
  • Web site listing as Major Sponsor with hotlink
The Rest of the Story

The prostitution of the tobacco control movement's national conference -- seeking money and forsaking scientific objectivity -- is just another example of the loss of scientific integrity in the tobacco control movement.

When money becomes more important than scientific integrity, that's when you leave the realm of a science-based movement and enter the realm of an all-out crusade.

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